Organic Matter: Local story on senior drivers ties in with national story

The timing of a story I wrote about safety for themselves and others posed by some senior drivers that appeared June 13 in the Kingman Daily Miner was most appropriate in light of a national story that came out three days later.

A local task force has organized to gather information on accidents caused by elderly drivers who are impaired.

Julie Mitchell, nursing administrator, and Beverly Poole, director of nursing at The Gardens Care Center are leading the effort and both stressed to me they want to get impaired drivers off the road, not rob seniors of their independence by taking away the keys to their cars.

Mitchell and Poole are advocating anyone 75 years of age and up be required to take a mental competency exam to test memory as part of the licensing requirement.

Does the driver remember that a red light means stop and green means go? It's a valid concern as the aging process heightens the chance of contracting Alzheimer's disease or some other form of dementia.

The task force formed following a May 20 accident in which an 81-year-old driver struck a 16-year-old girl in a shopping center parking lot and dragged her more than 300 feet under his van.

She sustained fractures or breaks to her right leg, pelvis, left wrist, right collarbone, and lost much of the skin on her left thigh.

Findings of the task force will be presented to state legislators later this year or early next year in hopes of getting a bill passed that would make the memory test mandatory for drivers 75-and-over.

We now learn that the American Medical Association plans to issue guidelines next month that tell doctors when an older patient's driving abilities come into question and get them the help needed to drive as long as is safe.

The federal government also has identified $1.6 million to start a National Older Drivers Research Center.

Its purpose will be to train more "certified driving rehabilitation specialists" and create better off-road testing to screen aging drivers for potential problems.

My mother never drove a car.

My father did not care to drive following a 1975 accident in which another driver ran a stop sign and hit him.

Dad was 66 at the time.

I lived with my parents or close to them until both died, mom in 1992, dad in 1995.

I was happy to take them wherever they wished to go, whether shopping, a doctor's appointment or whatever.

Neither ever felt confined to the house.

Both had their memories intact at the time of their deaths, so neither had any form of dementia, thank heavens.

Staying mentally healthy in one's older years may be aided by reading an absorbing book or doing challenging crossword puzzles.

At least that is the thought behind a 21-year study of mental breakdown in old age reported by the AP in a story out of Boston.

The New England Journal of Medicine published results of the study Thursday.

It was led by Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City.

The study of 469 elderly found that those in the top third of daily mental activity had a 63 percent lower risk of contracting dementia than people in the bottom third.

It also stated participation in one activity once a week reduced the risk by 7 percent.

A study group of just 469 people does not lead me to believe in the accuracy of the findings.

But then again I am neither a doctor nor researcher, so who knows?

Two people who responded to my June 13 story said they think it would be a good (and fair) idea for everyone holding or seeking a driver's license to undergo the proposed memory exam, and I agree.

I have no qualms about taking such a test, if mandated.

And it certainly would lessen, if not completely end, any argument that the test is discriminatory due to the age factor of those taking it.

Of course, who would pay for the test is a totally different question to be considered.

Terry Organ is the Miner's education, health and weather reporter.